The Greatest Challenge in Modern Theological Education

Christianity has always encountered immense challenges and has found itself having to respond to persecution, internal divisions, secular philosophies, and hostile socio-cultural attitudes. Among the many issues facing global theological education, the greatest challenge remains the failure to foster the Bible’s relevance to our daily living.

Many Bible teachers and theologians avoid addressing controversial topics in light of Scripture. Consequently, many churches emphasize stage performance and deliver a seeker-sensitive, watered-down Gospel. According to a recent survey of U.S. adults conducted by Barna in partnership with the American Bible Society, “Just over half of adults who used the Bible in the past week (53%) say they give a lot of thought to how it might apply to their lives.”[1]  Another sobering statement comes from the study quoted by Josh McDowell, a well-known American apologist: “At least 78.8% of all men that attend evangelical churches watch pornography. Probably 80% of all evangelical youth pastors also watch pornography, and now, the greatest increase is among women and young ladies. It’s killing us. 64% of all Christian families have an acute problem with pornography.”[2]

Notwithstanding our individual responsibility for deepening our relationship with God, I submit that theological educators have a great responsibility for the spiritual condition of the ones entrusted to them, whether in the classroom or in the pew (Acts 20:28; James 3:1). However, many institutions focus on the transmission of historical and doctrinal knowledge as opposed to its applicability to various aspects of our daily living (e.g., culture, family, and church). Theological education often values academic research significantly more than discipleship and spiritual formation. As Dr. Greg Forster states: “Theological educators are professionally evaluated and promoted based on whether they produce scholarly books and articles (judged by the 19th-century German research university model of “scholarship”) much more than on whether they produce disciples.”[3]

I suggest that the personal knowledge of God should not be severed from the living out of God’s Word as both are necessary for spiritual formation: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV).

Theological educators ought to be reminded that teaching the Word of God is a privilege which should be exercised with regard for God’s glory (James 3:1). Thus, Christian institutions should balance the importance of scholarship with a commitment to the students’ spiritual formation. Likewise, pastors and other Christian ministers can expect a spiritual transformation only by following Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1–2).